Thirty miles west of Snyder, Texas was the childhood home of our next recipient. Mike Stephens came took his first breath of dry West Texas dusty air in Snyder on June 9, 1945. He lived with his parents Allen and Opal Stephens on the Rocker Ranch owned by the Clayton Family of Borden County. His dad, Allen, was born in Van Zant County and his mother in Scurry County.
His fondest childhood memories are of growing up on the ranch where his dad worked. He had the wide open spaces to use as his personal play park. Learning the values of chores, and responsibilities of taking care of animals started him on the road to life. He said the best day of his life was when he could start following his dad off to the pastures and not left behind. One vivid memory was his venture into the outfitting business. The preacher asked if Mike could let him come out for a day of duck hunting. Mike said “sure!”. “Come on out”. He just forgot to ask Dad about it. When the preacher showed up, Dad made him go ask Mr. Clayton if it was OK for the preacher to hunt. Mr. Clayton was gracious and allowed the hunt. That lesson taught a young Mike Stephens a good lesson about being too big for his britches! Then after all that, the preacher missed, not a bird to take home!
Mike had two siblings, one brother, fifteen years older and one sister, eleven years older. Both are deceased.
After graduation from high school in Gail, Texas he went to college at Sul Ross in Alpine, Texas. Day working and summer jobs for Gage Holland was the life before the US Army came calling, the Viet Nam years. After the Army he returned to Alpine and went to work on the O6 for the Kokernots.
One ranch job brought a young Susan Scott Smith, the college room-mate of the owner’s daughter, to visit often. Mike pursued her for a year before marrying her one year later in June of 1977. She was not ranch raised, but had a love for horses from early childhood. She got to West Texas as soon as she could!
After they married Mike became involved with the iconic Moorhouse family. Working for them for 18 years. Mike had an issue with another prominent ranching name. Middleton. For a few years every time he would land a good ranch job, Sam showed up with those little metal signs that go on the headquarters gate. Sam kept selling the ranches out from under him. After working for the 6666 Dixon Creek, the New Mexico Spade and eventually the Joe Kirk Fulton Panhandle ranch.
Not un-noticed by neighbor Chris Scharbauer on the Alamocitos Ranch, Mike found a home on that historic ranch for the next 12 years before moving for the last time.
Mike and Susan have no children, but have been mentors about the ranching way of life to those that passed through their lives. Mike believes the business and art of handling good cattle and horses in the old ways is important to keep in our culture.
His fear of drought is as anyone in the business, but he recognizes that cow people are in the grass business. He also lives in country that needs not only gentle soaking rain for grass, but the occasional tank fillers too. God looks after the land if people will let Him.
Knowing that changing times will change people and the way they live their lives, he believes the old ways have their place. The greatest satisfaction he has had has been in working with great cow people in great cow country on great cow horses. He understands that horses can outperform any mechanical vehicle in the artful handling of cattle.
His favorite horse was named Jay. Mike got Jay when he was a yearling. He and Jay were partners for 12 years. He never left Mike afoot. Jay had “bottom”. Another great horse Mike was paired with was a Quien Sabe raised horse named Par Kay. Probably the best horse he ever rode, he could do it all.
Mike believes that the ranching business has always been faced with challenges and today’s times have created new ones. He believes every individual has a calling to their life’s work, whether by birth or choice. He believes those called to ranching will be good stewards to the lands and animals they work with. He believes that the personal independence and responsibility needed to succeed in ranching will allow for ranchers to adapt and adjust to the situation at hand. He strongly believes that a person has to trust in God and the guidance and help He will provide.
Ladies and gentlemen, I we are honored to present the Foy Proctor Memorial Cowman’s Award of Honor to Mike Stephens.